Upon first thought it sounds absolutely insane to invite complete strangers, who may not speak English, to stay at our home for a week. Yet it’s exactly what Mr. E&G and I are doing this week. We are hosting a couple from Croatia on a weeklong international Rotary exchange program. Yep, we never met them prior to their arrival on Sunday. I’m living proof hosting international exchange guests is enriching and doable even with full-time jobs and a four year old. Here are five tips on how to master being an international exchange host.
Prepare in advance
This is a no-brainer for hosting anyone. It’s even more relevant when the guests are not friends or family and there are possible language and cultural barriers. The key is to communicate with guests beforehand. Mr. E&G and I emailed our guests numerous times. It’s important to know what they like to do and not do, what they want to experience and learn and if they have any food allergies. This information gives direction to the itinerary, which should be made in advance while knowing that parts of it can be changed. Let guests know if you have pets or the like. We definitely let our guests know we have an energetic four-year old as surprising them with this could go very badly for everyone involved. Luckily, our guests have two older boys of their own and were very excited to meet Lady Elle.
Plan meals in advance.
I don’t usually meal plan on a regular basis even though I know it would make my life so much easier. Being an international exchange host calls for meal planning though. Food is at the heart of any international exchange so having thoughtful meals and dishes reflective of the region planned is key. Besides going to the grocery store on the way home every night with a four-year old is not anyone’s idea of a good time. A cranky child is a cranky child-it’s a universal language.
Stock the guest room and bathroom.
Make the guest room as close to hotel or Airbnb worthy as possible. Leave a basket with water bottles, bags of nuts for protein, granola bars, tissues, Tylenol and band-aids. Make the bed, I even put extra pillows and a light nearby in case our guests want to read at night. For an extra special touch, I put a fresh flower on the nightstand. Stock the bathroom with extra toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, toothpaste and unopened tooth brushes on the counter. When the guests arrive, I show them how to work the thermostat and shower.
Allow for personal space.
This goes for down-time too. Allow enough down-time for guests to check their emails (make sure wifi is available!), make phone calls back home and rest. It’s a lot of work, for all involved, to be on your best manners for days in a row. I’m not the Ritz-Carlton, but I can offer a nice uninterrupted place to read or take a nap. Make them feel like they are on vacation and don’t plan every.single.minute.of.the.day.
Plan for the unexpected.
It’s always Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong, will go wrong. Okay, it’s really not that bad, but leave wiggle room for their unexpected requests or activities. A big tip is to remember every culture respects time differently. For instance, we hosted an exchange guest from India eight years ago. Two-hours late was considered on-time for them. He was late getting ready every.single.morning. I didn’t have children at the time, thank goodness, but I was late to work every.single.day. Obviously, this exchange did not go as well as planned.
Being an international exchange host is a fun and enriching experience for all involved.
Have you hosted international exchanges? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences or tips as we will likely host again.